Interview with illustrator Wilbert van der Steen
Wilbert van der Steen started as an illustrator and cartoonist in 1993 and worked for several Dutch and foreign publishers. Between 2000 and 2006 he made illustrative paintings and added short tales to them. He illustrated many children’s books, four of them were picture books he made in association with writer Tiny Fisscher. Wilbert also wrote a children’s novel, the illustrated adventure Pension Kat (B&B Cat).
In 2009 he set his first steps into the comic world. In 2013 his short comic Peter and the wolf, an adaptation of Prokoviev’s story, put him in the comic world’s spotlight and he came in touch with the Flemish prize-winning comic writer Marc Legendre. In August 2014 they published their first comic book Ayak + Por, and two more books were going to follow. We have conducted an interview with Wilbert.
Which are your top 3 favourite illustrated comic books?
1 - ‘SUSKE EN WISKE , Het sprekende testament’ (=the talking will) by Willy Vandersteen (not related). I grew up with these comics. This story is still great to read. When the family find their house burned down they start to build up their live again. That’s difficult until they find by chance a recorded will. (These comics are translated. In English: Spike and Suzy)
2 - Green manor (3 books) by Bodart & Vehlmann. Short stories playing early 1900. Grimly and gothic tales.
3 - ‘Op zoek naar de tijdvogel’ (= Quest for the time bird) by Le Tendre & Loisel. An epic sci-fi story searching for a mythical creature to save their world.
What has been the most challenging about writing your children's novel 'The illustrated adventure Pension Kat (B&B Cat)?
That wasn’t my fantasy. I saw the story in pictures in my head. The challenge was to write it down. Fortunately, the publisher’s editor was patient. She pushed me and came with good directions. I’m a draughtsman with the need to tell his own tales. So I needed some guidance. It was published in 2008 and got a couple of nominations for best debut.
What was your childhood dream?
That was becoming a comics artist. World famous I added to tell you the truth. After ‘Pension Kat’ was published I began on volume 2. But I soon realized that I wanted to tell my stories in art. I wanted to make comics. During my education at an art academy, comics were looked down upon. It wasn’t something to strive for. I was influenced by these opinions and put my wish on a side track. Also when I got my degree the Dutch comic market was in a slum. I decided to make illustrations for children’s books.
Did you realise it?
Yes, I did. Very pleased with my decision to pursue my childhood dream. In 2010 I took my first steps into the comic world again. I started to enter comic challenges and made shorts. Worked on a webcomic for 2 years. I wasn’t pleased where it was going. I needed to make something that represented me. In 2013 I started on my adaptation of Prokofiev's ‘Peter and the wolf’. A 14 pages comic. That became my breakthrough in the Dutch comic world. After a while, I came in contact with Marc Legendre who introduced me to a publisher. I asked him if he had an old story I could transform into a comic. After that, we worked on another short. That way our first comic was born, ‘Ayak + Por 1’.
What is your deepest impression about working together with Tiny Fisscher?
We had an instant good friendship. We made some wonderful picturebooks together. What she wrote I loved, it fitted me. The illustrations I made added a lot to the story. I saw things in the story she didn’t see.
How do you feel about working together with the Flemish prize-winning comic writer Marc Legendre?
When I realized who he was and how lucky I was it strengthened my choice to become a comics artist. His introduction into the comic world was a blessing. He also gave me courage and self-awareness of my own abilities.
What are your plans in the near future?
Currently, I’m working on a self-written comic ‘ZON’ (=SUN). A story about a boy, his mother, their distorted relationship and a death in the family. I like to see it published.
There’s another story Marc and I want to make. That’ll have to wait for this moment. We made some pages and are both enthusiastic about it. Marc and my first comic book ‘Ayak + Por 1’ is translated into French, ‘Ayak + Boris 1’. I want to try to see translations in English and German. And I hope that the volume 2 and 3 will be translated too. The reviews are very good. I also would want to work in the development of animations. For instance character design or making story boards.
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